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Local scientist to address House of Commons committee

A Bermuda-based scientist is set address a select committee of the House of Commons tonight on the subject of ocean acidification.

Nick Bates, Director of Research at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, will speak to the Science and Technology Committee - who have launched an inquiry on ocean acidification - and present oral evidence on the importance of continued research on the environmental threat.

“Hopefully the inquiry will identify this environmental issue is of importance to the UK and that is will fund future research on ocean acidification,” he said. “It is great to be able to highlight to importance of scientific research and ocean monitoring of ocean acidification is Bermuda to the UK government.

“The UK does not at present support the long term monitoring of ocean acidification and ocean chemistry changes in its UK Overseas Territories territorial waters whose Exclusive Economic Zone marine waters constitute an area eight times that of UK mainland waters. So there is a major gap in knowledge, and also hampers economic development and environmental protection of the UKOTs.”

Dr Bates said that the call to give evidence on the topic came after he submitted written evidence to the committee.

“Climate change often overshadows other environmental issues, but it is not the only problem being caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide,” he explained. “CO2 is also being absorbed by the oceans, making our oceans gradually more acidic.

“However, it should be noted that ocean acidification does not mean that the oceans are at present acidic or will likely become acidic in the near future. Ocean acidification thus refers to the process of shifting ocean chemistry of marine waters from a slightly alkaline state to a less alkaline state.”

He said that numerous studies had suggested that ocean acidification has a direct impact of sea life, including coral and a range of marine plants and animals by affecting their ability to produce hard calcium carbonate shells, reducing their viability and health, along with that of the wider marine ecosystem.

“Knowledge of the impact of ocean acidification is key to the policy area of fisheries/marine resources and environmental protection,” he said. “Ocean acidification poses a substantial threat to marine ecosystems, and species, but the speed and nature of the threat (and its geographic variability) are not well understood.

“Future decision making in this area, and options for mitigation, prevention and adaptation, should be based on evidence.”

Dr Bates noted that researchers in Bermuda have been collecting ocean chemistry data for decades, creating the longest record of ocean acidification on the planet.

“They show a substantial reduction in pH of 15 per cent over the past 30 years due to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with implications for coral reefs and other important marine ecosystems,” he said.

“I am hopeful that the work done by my group at BIOS in Bermuda waters and the work by BIOS scientists is recognised to be of great value to the UK.”

Bermuda oceanographer Nick Bates